Bringing a Non-GMO Dairy Solution to North America

At last, there’s an easier way for producers to source this in-demand ingredient

KerryDigest Fast Facts:

  • More than 70% of North American consumers want non-GMO food and beverage products.
  • Non-GMO dairy can be costly to produce in North America, and therefore in short supply.
  • Kerry's Irish supply farms' ability to produce more environmentally responsible grass-fed milk is recognized by the Non-GMO Project, the most trusted third-party seal for GMO avoidance in North America.
  • Kerry is the first major milk processor in Ireland to have its 3,200 farms 100% certified under the Origin Green Sustainable Dairy Assurance Scheme (SDAS).

Leveraging Our Non-GMO Dairy Heritage

North American consumer demand for non-GMO food and beverage products is growing, yet manufacturers continue to encounter challenges in sourcing and producing market viable options, particularly within the dairy category. To meet demand, Kerry North America recently collaborated with our Irish-based Kerry Agribusiness colleagues to develop a market solution that speaks to our Irish dairy heritage and our commitment to producing high quality, sustainable dairy. Here’s how we forged this intercontinental partnership for bringing a non-GMO dairy solution to North America.

Identifying a Growing Trend

Since 2010, when the Non-GMO Project’s butterfly icon first appeared on food and beverage products in North America, consumer demand has risen so that sales now exceed $19.2 billion annually. The trend has reached a tipping point: A recent Consumer Reports survey found more than 70% of U.S. adults would rather have foods free from GMOs.

But dairy products and products made from dairy ingredients remain under-represented among Non-GMO Project Verified offerings.

“For milk and dairy ingredients to carry the butterfly logo, a cow’s diet must be Non-GMO Project Verified, and the simplest way to accomplish that is through a pasture-based, or grass-fed farming system,” says Carrie Schroeder, Technical  Business Development Director for Kerry North America’s dairy division. “Ireland’s rich soils and lush grasslands provide favorable conditions for its traditional, low-intensity pasture-based dairy production system. In the U.S., there's simply not access to enough pasture for most cows to graze year-round.”

With a surge in inquiries coming into our Beloit, Wisconsin, Kerry North America headquarters, Schroeder and the rest of the dairy team sought to collaborate with the Irish-based Kerry Agribusiness, which supports our Irish milk suppliers in implementing the Sustainable Dairy Assurance Scheme (SDAS). Our strong heritage in grass-based dairy production in Ireland provided the optimal opportunity to meet the growing consumer requirement for more sustainably produced, Non-GMO Project Verified dairy in North America.

Adopting a Sustainable Solution

In 2017 Ireland exported more than €12.6 billion ($15.5 billion) in food, beverage and ingredients to 180 international markets. Geographically, the island is well-positioned for farming and pasture grazing, with a temperate climate and abundant rainfall. Irish farms are also traditionally small in size, with the average family farm occupying approximately 80 acres and herds typically kept to around 80 cows.

This small-scale sustainable farming model has had a positive effect on public perception. “Perhaps more than any other Irish export, North American consumers now associate Irish butter and dairy with being high-quality and great tasting,” says Schroeder.

To promote more sustainable production, in 2012 Bord Bia launched Origin Green, a national program that brings together government, the private sector and food producers to set and achieve measurable sustainability targets.

Under the Bord Bia/Origin Green Sustainable Dairy Assurance Scheme (SDAS), Irish farmers and processors can demonstrate to global customers of dairy products that milk is produced under an accredited scheme. There are 170 criteria set for farmers that ensure Irish dairy is free of antibiotics and growth hormones as well as addressing other areas of high significance regarding food safety and traceability.

The SDAS is designed to track, measure and improve on-farm practices including minimizing carbon footprint, improving soil and water quality, maintaining biodiversity and supporting animal welfare. Farms are audited every 18 months, and separate commitments are made at processor level to ensure a certified sustainable product from farm to fork.

Kerry reached a significant milestone in September 2017, becoming the first major milk processor in Ireland to have all 3,200 of its farms 100% certified under Origin Green’s SDAS.

Forging a Natural Relationship

Kerry, which started out as a dairy cooperative in 1972, has long provided high quality, grass-fed milk for its products and partners. With today’s demand for non-GMO dairy outpacing supply in the United States, our North American dairy team investigated the feasibility of bringing grass-fed dairy ingredients to the U.S. and leveraging Non-GMO Project certification.

The collaboration was a logical approach. “Because of our roots in dairy and the work we’ve done with Kerry Agribusiness to increase grass and limit supplemental feed, our Irish dairy farmers produce exactly what the Non-GMO Project expects and what North American consumers want from a pasture-based farming system,” says Schroeder.

Through the participation in Origin Green, Kerry was able to establish an evidence-based approach to supply chain sustainability, which is increasingly important as consumers demand transparency and value clean label solutions. “Because we also operate dairy processing plants in Ireland, including ones for cheese and powders, we’re able to produce various products for both retail and industrial markets, meaning we’re essentially 100% vertically integrated—from cow to consumer,” says Schroeder. 

Our participation in Origin Green is one important element of Kerry’s Group-wide sustainability program "Towards 2020," which outlines our commitment to responsibly source raw materials; reduce the environmental impact of our manufacturing processes and support community initiatives within the international markets in which we operate.

To learn more about Kerry’s sustainability work, including our partnership with Origin Green, visit the Sustainability section of our website. To learn more about our Non-GMO Project Verified dairy offerings, contact Kerry.

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